In-Depth Look At My Ableton Live Worship Setup

Ableton Live is the number one worship leading software that will drastically improve the musical and production quality of your worship ministry. I've been a worship leader for 10 years, I've been using Ableton Live for only three years now. My only regret is I did not begin learning it sooner. In this video, I want to give you an in-depth look at my Ableton Live worship set. 

I want to walk through the gear and software setup I use every Sunday at Mission Lakewood Church. We're a small church plant here in Colorado, so Ableton Live has been incredibly helpful, not only in enhancing the sound of our band, but also automating our production elements where we frankly just don't have all the manpower to run lighting and lyrics to the level that we want them to.

But Ableton Live takes care of that.

Gear

1:51–2:29

First I’m going to show you what hardware I use to optimize Ableton to it’s fullest potential. 

I use two computers.

  • One computer is my Ableton Live laptop. It sits on stage, usually right next to our drummer. 

  • My other computer is back in our tech booth that's running Pro Presenter for lyrics and video on our screens, and then also our lighting software, MyDMX 3.0. 

The third piece of major hardware I use is the Looptimist midi foot controller. 

How the hardware works together

2:29-4:04

1. At the beginning of worship when the countdown gets to zero, I queue up song number one.

Then I press play on my Looptimist mini which sends the signal to Ableton Live through a USB cable. 

midi-button.jpg

Then the laptop runs our click track in Ableton as well as our backing tracks, so I'll also have an audio output that goes to our digital snake on our stage that then goes to our sound console. 

2. Once I trigger a song with my foot pedal and it starts playing in Ableton Live, Ableton Live then sends midi signals over wifi to the second Macbook Pro running Pro Presenter and lighting. And that's how Pro Presenter and my lighting software are automated.

2nd laptop.jpg

I also have a Samsung 256 gigabyte solid state drive for all of my Ableton Live media. 

samsung.jpg

3. I have my Looptimist and my Looptimist midi foot controllers near me when I'm leading worship so when I'm ready to queue up a song, I press the button to queue up the right song in Ableton, then I press another button on my Looptimist mini to play the song, and then the magic happens. 


Using it during Sunday morning

4:05–7:21

So now, let's dive more into Ableton Live and what's going on any given Sunday. 

1. After rehearsal, I'm gonna press a keyboard command on Ableton, and I'm just gonna press play. 

This is my screen on the first laptop that’s just running Ableton Live. 

Pictured: The Ableton Live timeline with our pre-service settings at the beginning. The rest of the songs and their cues are organized chronologically so you’ll see them farther down.

Pictured: The Ableton Live timeline with our pre-service settings at the beginning. The rest of the songs and their cues are organized chronologically so you’ll see them farther down.

And this is what I see on the second laptop that’s running Pro Presenter and MyDMX 3.0. 

Pink rectangle=Pro Presenter screen. Green rectangle=MyDMX3.0 screen

Pink rectangle=Pro Presenter screen. Green rectangle=MyDMX3.0 screen

During our pre-service, we just have our Church logo up on our screen (which you can see on the far left side of the image below) until we have our 5 min. countdown.

logo.jpg
The highlighted rectangles on the MyDMX3.0 side indicate which light settings are running.

The highlighted rectangles on the MyDMX3.0 side indicate which light settings are running.

2. So let’s say there's five seconds left in the countdown, and our band is on stage, ready to go, so I'm gonna let everything from the pre-service play through and then I'm gonna make sure song one is queued up. 

When the countdown hits zero, I press play, and then everything starts on its own. 

  • The playhead (just the long vertical line that moves and tells you were you’re at) starts advancing. 

  • It starts fading in our tracks. 

  • It blacks out the screen. 

  • Then it brings up the first song.

In my online tutorials (more on that later), I walk you through creating these cues (the colored, rectangular bars), but I’ll give you a quick rundown of these bars right now. 

Note: The bars/cues are the long, skinny rectangles that run along the screen and represent the different actions that Ableton is currently performing or will perform.

First view.jpg
  • On the top track (black), I have my marker's track which is just some empty midi cues to label different parts of the song. 

  • Then I have a tempo clip (gray) underneath the second track. The tempo clip is an empty audio file that simply sets the master tempo of Ableton Live so that the metronome is at the right tempo. It will switch when I go to different tempo clips for different songs. 

  • I also have a track for just the plain old audio file click that sometimes comes with multi-tracks.

  • I have a guide track (teal) to give us cues to count off different sections of the song.

  • It’s simply a track that counts down the beginning of verses so my band never gets lost. The audio waves you see are a voice counting us in with “2,3,4…”

count-down2.jpg
  • I put an MP3 track (purple) in so I can hear the original arrangement.

track.jpg
  • The green tracks below are all of my Pro Presenter cues. 

  • Then I have my lighting cues midi track (yellow), so you can see I have my house lighting cue on the far left as well as my band. Farther down, I have stage lighting cues, different cues for LED lights for the different color looks that we have throughout worship. 

  • As the playhead advances it’ll hit those cues and it’ll put up those right scenes in my lighting software, and the right lyrics in Pro Presenter

Pads

7:21–8:33

I also have a couple cool tracks here for running pads. Sometimes at the intro, I just wanted to have a little bit more of a beefier pad sound at the beginning to fade in. 

Or sometimes the band and I want to be spontaneous in worship, so at the end of the third song in our set, the song will fade out and then it's just gonna be pads (the long purple bar that extends to the right) playing in the background with our click track. 

loop indicator.jpg

The tiny red rectangle at the far right is called a “loop locator.” So when the playhead hits the red rectangle, it’ll loop back to the beginning of the pad and I can have it go for as long as I want. When I press pause, the pads fade out.

Backing Tracks

8:33–11:12

And then, of course, I have all of my backing tracks which is cool because then I can perfectly time my transitions. You can see how the two multi-colored bars are overlapping which means that the tracks of this first song, Glorious Day, are fading out and then I Lift My Eyes will be fading in. 

backingtracks.jpg

I want to mix the sound of my backing tracks of a song, it's really easy to do on the fly.

Below are all my tracks from mix that I used this past Sunday. Our band doesn't have a bass player, so I made sure I kept bass in there. We also have our electric guitars and everything else.

adjusting the mix.jpg

Adjusting the volume and levels of each track is really easy. Let's say if I were wanting to change a key of a song really quickly, all I’d have to do is:

  • Select all the tracks for that song. 

  • Then go into the Warp Menu and then I can just say, "Okay, let's transpose this up two semi tones." 

warp menu.jpg

Adjusting song tempo

10:26–11:12

Let's pretend that I wanted to actually speed up the tempo of the song. I don't really know why I would want to do that, but it’s easy to do on the fly. 

  • I'll select my master tempo clip I have (the white bar at the top) that sets the metronome in Ableton Live.

  • Then, I'm gonna go down and switch the segment BPM. It's at 83 beats per minute. Let's switch it to 100 beats per minute. 

BPM2.jpg
bpm.jpg

And then you just select “Seg. BPM” and adjust it to whatever number you want. Like I said, it’s super easy to adjust both the key of songs and also the tempo of songs in Ableton Live. 

Making seamless transitions

11:12–12:42

Lastly, I want to show you one of my favorite ways that Ableton makes the different transitions in worship really seamless. 

  • At the end of our sermon, we’ll do two songs. What I'll do is I'll just have some soft, subtle pads playing in the background underneath the end of our pastor's sermon, and then when he starts praying at the end, the pads continue to loop in the background until we enable the next song. 

  • So our pastor gets to the end of his sermon, and then after he prays, he says, "Hey, we're gonna transition back into worship now." So he invites people to stand so we can worship together. 

  • When he invites people to stand and he starts exiting the stage, watch what happens. I press “Number 4” for song four in our set list, which in this case is “Reckless Love.” 

  • Ableton jumps to that locator, blacks out all the lights, sets the house lighting to dim, gives us a couple measures to get ready, and gets the title slide and background cued up from Pro Presenter.  It’s a really seamless process when you take the time to program all of this stuff ahead of time. 

Programming and flexibility

12:42–13:08

Despite all the programming we're doing ahead of time, there's still room to program in flexibility into our worship set, as I already showed you, with those looping pads. 

But you can go through a song, you can create repeat cues so that, say you're going through a chorus, you want to sing it one more time, you just press a button on your foot controller and it will repeat that section of the song, and then it will just keep going through the end of that song. There are just so many different advanced little tweaks you can make to your Ableton Live set to allow for that flexibility in worship. 


Free Ableton Live Masterclass for Worship Leaders

If you're new to Ableton Live and implementing this software in worship, I highly recommend you check out my free Ableton Live Masterclass for Worship Leaders.

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